Putin the painter

Hunting, fishing, fighting, kissing babies, Machiavellian political maneuvering, ruling with an iron fist...and painting? Is Vladimir Putin the most complete human of the 21st century?

Putin's debut painting, a delicate if somewhat rudimentary water color based on a Nikolai Gogol story, will be auctioned for charity this weekend. The work is part of a collection of paintings by celebrities to raise money for a cultural fund in St. Petersburg. The painting has some weird resonance with current events, the Telegraph reports:

According to organisers, Mr Putin popped into the exhibition unexpectedly on Boxing Day where, after drinking some mulled wine, he agreed to reveal his previously hidden artistic talents by contributing a painting of his own.

According to the rules of the exhibition, Mr Putin was required to paint an image related to the Night Before Christmas, a story by the Ukrainian born author Nikolai Gogol, the bicentenary of whose birth is celebrated this year.

Set in Dikanka, a village in central Ukraine, the story tells of events on a blizzard-swept Christmas Eve thrown into chaos because the Devil has stolen the moon.

With Russia locked in a bitter gas dispute with Ukraine, the theme is replete with ironic symbolism with even the frost encrusted windows unwittingly suggesting freezing homes across central Europe after Mr Putin ordered all supplies through Europe to be cut.

I have a feeling the mulled wine bit is journalistic embellishment. Putin is, famously, a light drinker or at least unlikely to appear sloshed in public.

Rather than a drunken whim, this seems like a well calculated move to soften Putin's already sufficiently manly public persona. Not everyone's buying Putin's sensitive side though:

"A leader who demands that the world play by our rules could hardly have painted such a picture," said one painter, who asked to remain anonymous for his own security. "It looks as if it was painted by a sentimental woman. It is too sweet; you can feel it in the brushwork and the palette. The core theme is feminine too."

The charge was denied by exhibition organizers. "He did the painting all by himself, but he was given advice by a lady artist," said Polina Vavilina, press secretary for Tsarskoe Selo.

I have to say, Vavilina's explanation really raises more questions than it answers.


Warren and Robinson are worlds apart

As Bishop Gene Robinson is added to the roster for Obama's inaugural events, it seems pretty obvious why he and Rick Warren, set to give the invocation, don't exactly get along. Bluntly, Warren is an influential Conservative Evangelical who actively campaigns against gay marriage, and V. Gene Robinson is the first openly gay Bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The gaping divide between the two religious men actually goes even deeper -- all the way to Nigeria, where the powerful Episcopal Archbishop Peter Akinola presides. The famously anti-gay Akinola has led a global movement of Episcopalians against Robinson's consecration. The church in fact split over the issue, twice -- a wide global spectrum of parishes turning to Akinola for leadership.

And when Time named Bishop Akinola as one of the world's most influential people in 2006, guess who they got to write him up? Rick Warren. Just today, Warren was rumored to be willing to help disgruntled Episcopalians get as far away from Robinson as possible. No surprise that when Warren was chosen for the inaugural invocation, Robinson told The New York Times, "it was like a slap in the face."

They've both also said quite nice words about one another, by the way. But still. Yikes. If Obama is trying to "bring people together," that's quite a daring pairing. What must Akinola be thinking about all this?

Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images